Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson declared for the 2013 NFL Draft as a junior. In 2012, Richardson recorded four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
At 6’4’’, 295 pounds, Richardson’s athleticism is off the charts. When Richardson enters the league, don’t be surprised if he immediately becomes the fastest defensive tackle in the NFL; he’s that explosive. Richardson should light up the Combine; combined with his game tape, it’s a recipe for rising up draft boards.
With his skill set, Richardson will be a one-gap player in the NFL. He’s at his best when he can penetrate and use his quickness to make plays. I’ve seen reports that he’s a very strong player but, considering his size, I don’t think that’s accurate. Richardson can play powerfully when he shoots gaps and uses his speed to knock defenders into the backfield, but as it stands right now, he won’t consistently hold up at the point, i.e. he’s not a two-gap player who can stand his ground and shed blockers.
The good news is that Richardson could easily add some bulk, if necessary. I personally think he should stay below 300 pounds to maintain his elite quickness, but he could get to 305 or 310 pounds and still be an explosive player on the inside. As you’d expect, Richardson is phenomenal in pursuit, scraping down the line-of-scrimmage like a big linebacker.
Richardson has the potential to be a terror against both the run and pass when he shoots gaps. This can cause him to get himself out of position at times, but it also leads to a lot of big plays. If he’s in the proper one-gap scheme, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Right now, Richardson’s biggest weaknesses are 1) a failure to get off of blocks if his initial move fails and 2) his shoulder. The defensive tackle had shoulder surgery in early 2012, and that could be a concern for some teams.
NFL Comparison: Jay Ratliff
Like Ratliff, Richardson is a play-making defensive tackle. Richardson is actually faster and more athletic than Ratliff, but neither player will kill you at the point.
I created a consensus big board that combined rankings from the most accurate draft analysts from past years, and Richardson checked in at No. 16. With his athleticism, I expect Richardson to eventually jump Johnathan Hankins to become the second defensive tackle off of the board behind Star Lotulelei. If that happens, Richardson may very well be a top 10 pick.
Fit in Dallas
Richardson probably won’t fall to Dallas, but he seems to be the exact sort of player that Monte Kiffin covets on the inside. He’s basically a younger, cheaper Ratliff. Even if the Cowboys keep Ratliff, Richardson could be an option due to Jason Hatcher’s flexibility.
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Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.